What to Know About Cartilage Piercings

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on July 23, 2023
5 min read

A cartilage piercing is a type of body modification in which you have a decorative hole in one of the cartilage-filled parts of your body. A piercing of your nose or the stiff upper part of your ears is a cartilage piercing.  It’s important to know how to take care of these piercings so they heal correctly. ‌

Cartilage piercings take longer to heal than soft-tissue piercings through your earlobes or eyebrows. They may take anywhere from 4-12 months to fully heal. 

These piercings heal from the skin inwards. So you may think your piercing is healed before it actually is.

Like any piercing, a cartilage piercing needs to be cared for correctly or it can cause health problems. All piercings are technically wounds. They need good wound care to heal without complications.

A well-done cartilage piercing will be slightly sore to the touch at first. It will likely itch and ooze clear or white-yellow fluid that crusts on your jewelry. You may also notice minor bleeding and bruising or redness around the piercing. These are normal and will go away as the cartilage piercing heals.

Infected cartilage piercing. Not every cartilage piercing is done well, unfortunately. Your piercing can get infected if it’s done poorly or with unclean tools.

An infected cartilage piercing may:

  • Hurt
  • Ooze a thick or smelly discharge that’s gray, yellow, or green
  • Feel hot to the touch
  • Turn bright red or pink
  • Lead to a fever, chills, and nausea

Talk to your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Cartilage piercing bump. Whether or not your cartilage piercing gets infected, you may also develop a keloid in the area. A keloid is a type of raised scar tissue that looks like a bump around the piercing.

Some keloids are caused by infection. Others just happen. A keloid isn’t dangerous, but some people don’t like the way they look. If you get a keloid from one cartilage piercing, you’re more likely to get them on additional piercings.

If you decide to get a cartilage piercing, make sure you get it from a trained professional piercer. Professionals know how to sanitize their equipment and give you a piercing that will heal neatly. 

Look for a state license or certification when you go to a piercing parlor. This ensures that your piercer knows what they’re doing.

Good hygiene. Your piercer should provide a clean environment and use sterile tools to do your piercing. They should wear a pair of new disposable gloves during your piercing. They should also use each tool only once before sterilizing it. 

If you’re not sure whether your piercer is using safe methods, it’s better to go to a different piercer than risk an infection.

 It’s fast. The piercing itself will only take a few minutes. Your piercer will swab your skin with alcohol and confirm where you want the piercing. Then they’ll use a sterile needle or piercing gun to make the hole and place your new jewelry. They may have you remain sitting for several minutes to make sure you don’t get dizzy from the piercing.

Once your piercer is confident you’re feeling OK, they’ll give you information on caring for your piercing. Follow their instructions to make sure your new body modification heals correctly. This will also help you avoid infection.

What to expect afterward. Right after your piercing, you might have minor pain, bleeding, or redness. A bit later, you may notice itching and see a clear whitish-yellow fluid that forms a crust around the piercing or on your jewelry. This isn’t pus – it’s just part of your skin’s healing process. This crusting can last for a few weeks.

Once you’re home, it’s your responsibility to help your piercing heal. One of the most important ways to do that is to regularly clean it to keep germs from getting into it. Here’s how:

  • Wash your hands before you start. 
  • Clean the piercing with either a sterile saline solution or a fragrance-free antimicrobial soap. Do this once or twice a day. Look for saline solutions whose labels say they’re intended for wound care use. Avoid homemade salt solutions. 
  • Rinse any soap from around the piercing. 
  • Gently dry the area with a clean, disposable paper towel or tissue. Avoid drying with cloth since it may carry germs or catch on the jewelry.

Here are some other ways to care for your cartilage piercing at home.

Don’t touch your jewelry. Touching your new piercing with unwashed hands before it heals is the best way to get an infection. Avoid touching your piercing unless you’re cleaning it.

Avoid contaminants. To keep your piercing clean throughout the day, steer clear of: 

  • Contact with body fluids, including saliva
  • Contact with open water, including lakes, rivers, pools, and hot tubs. Showers are better than baths since bathtubs can hold onto bacteria. 
  • Makeup or beauty items, including lotions, sprays, and powders.
  • Antibacterial ointments, as they can prevent your piercing from getting the air it needs to heal. 

Keep phones, headphones, hats, and anything else that touches your piercing clean.

Be careful with hair care. Avoid contact with your piercing while you wash, dry, or style your hair. If you’re having your hair cut or styled, let the barber or stylist know about your piercing. 

Tips for sleeping. Avoid lying on your cartilage piercing when you sleep. To make sure you have a clean sleeping surface, put your pillow inside a clean T-shirt before you go to bed. Change the shirt from back to front or outside to inside each day. Switch to a new shirt once you’ve used all the surfaces. 

Cartilage piercings are riskier than piercings of your skin, such as your earlobe. You may have more bleeding when you get your cartilage pierced. 

It’s important to keep these piercings clean since an infection could lead to necrosis, or tissue death, in your cartilage. This is more common in your nose because of the mucus inside, which can attract staphylococcus bacteria

To prevent these complications, stick to a steady cleaning routine and follow all of your piercer’s instructions. Avoid getting your septum pierced if you have allergies or a cold.

If you decide you don’t want your cartilage piercing, you can take out the jewelry. But this can interfere with the healing process. If you do this, be sure to keep cleaning the piercing daily until it’s fully healed. ‌